After scoring the goals that took Fulham back to the promised land, Joe Bryan’s Premier League season hasn’t turned out the way he would have wanted. Not only has he largely been sidelined in favour of summer signing Antonee Robinson, but the Whites’ Wembley hero hadn’t started a league game since the 2-1 defeat by Manchester United in February. The likeable left back made up for lost time tonight – heading in an equaliser at Old Trafford that earned the relegated side an unlikely and creditable point.

Bryan’s firm header after a flowing move down the Fulham right – which survived a VAR check for offside against Bobby Decordova-Reid – was fitting reward for the fight Scott Parker’s side had showed after largely being outplayed in the first half of what was almost a glorified exhibition fixture. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side, tuning up for their Europa League final against Villareal later this month, were into their stride early with Aaron Wan-Bissaka rampaging down the right and crossing for Paul Pogba, whose tame header went over the bar.

The returning home fans were treated to a moment of absolute magic from Edinson Cavani, who gave Manchester United the lead with a wonderfully inventive finish from 40 yards out. David de Gea’s kick travelled all the way through to the Uruguayan forward, with Bruno Fernandes trying and failing to flick it on, and Cavani spotted that Alphonse Areola had strayed way out of goal and beat him with an audacious lob. Given that Cavani was clearly offside from de Gea’s clearing kick – stationed well inside the Fulham half beyond Tosin Adarabioyo – it should have been chalked off, but nobody could quibble with the mesmerising quality of the finish.

Fulham, sitting deep and not committing too many bodies forward, were clinging on for dear life in the aftermath of the goal and might have gone further behind before half time. Bruno Fernandes was denied a trademark goal from the edge of the box by an athletic Areola save and Cavani looked like troubling Parker’s rejigged defence, which featured the recalled Tim Ream, every time the home side came forward.

The visitors’ chances were few and far between. Andre Frank Zambo Anguissa almost surprised de Gea with a powerful header from a corner, but no Fulham team-mate was following up to profit from the rebound. The away side’s brightest moments came from teenager Fabio Carvalho, who showed some silky touches in and around the United area, but was also guilty of spurning their best chance as half time neared when he sped away from Victor Lindelof to reach Ademola Lookman’s perfect through ball but shot straight at de Gea.

Fulham pressed more aggressively at the start of the second period and Maria Lemina showed signs of their more adventurous approach with a venomous drive from distance just after the restart. The Gabonese midfielder then went into Lee Mason’s book for a cynical foul on Scott McTominay as the Manchester United midfielder galloped into shooting range. Fernandes flashed the ensuing free-kick fractionally wide of the far post with Areola well beaten. The hosts looked in complete control, playing at an easy pace, but the longer the margin remained a single goal, the greater Fulham began to believe.

Evidence of their growing confidence emerged courtesy of Lookman, who had scored their opening goal against United in the reverse fixture. The on-loan Leipzig winger drifted into the penalty area and almost caught out de Gea at his near post. The Spaniard clawed away Lookman’s effort and recovered quickly enough to gather Carvalho’s headed follow up. Lemina then lashed one over from long range and United wasted a great opportunity to put the game to bed but Cavani caressed a pass through to Mason Greenwood, who shot straight at the advancing Areola, before Fernandes skied the rebound high and wide.

United were soon to rue their lack of ruthlessness. Anguissa snapped into a tackle with Luke Shaw, winning possession and sending the ball out to Decordova-Reid wide on the right. The former Bristol City forward sent over an inviting cross and there was Bryan in an advanced position to plant a header past de Gea after Wan-Bissaka had misjudged the flight of the ball in. Suddenly, the visitors looked the more likely to get a winner with Ivan Cavaleiro having a drive from the edge of the box blocked at source.

United went in search of one of their storied late winners but found Areola equal to an excellent shimmy and shot from Fernandes and, on the balance of play in the second period, Parker’s experimental side fully deserved a share of the spoils.

MANCHESTER UNITED (4-2-3-1): de Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Shaw, Tuanzebe, Lindelof; McTominay (Rashford 62), Fred; Greenwood (Diallo 83), Pogba, Fernandes; Cavani (van de Beek 87). Subs (not used): Henderson, Bailly, Williams, Telles, Matic, Mata.

BOOKED: Fernandes, Shaw.

GOAL: Cavani (15).

FULHAM (4-2-2-2): Areola; Lemina, Bryan, Adarabioyo, Ream; Reed (Andersen 32), Anguissa; Decordova-Reid, Lookman (Tete 89); Carvalho (Loftus-Cheek 63), Cavaleiro. Subs (not used): Rodak, Odoi, Hector, Aina, Onomah, Maja.

BOOKED: Lemina, Lookman, Areola.

GOAL: Bryan (76).

REFEREE: Lee Mason (Lancashire).

VIDEO ASSISTANT REFEREE: Simon Hooper (Wiltshire).